MISS MELINDA ATHANASIA JONES devoted herself during the day to the
composition of a poem to be read to the guests whom she expected in the
evening. She wanted to produce a good impression upon them. Her
vocation, so she thought, was that of an authoress. She had sent several
poems to the _Atlantic Monthly_ and _Harper’s Magazine_ at various
times, but with singular unanimity both periodicals had “respectfully
declined” them all. Melinda understood the reason well enough.
“It is because I am a Western _literati_,” she exclaimed to her brother,
with a lofty contempt for grammar. “If I were a Boston or New York
_literati_, they would be glad to get my productions.”
“I reckon you’re right, Melindy,” said her brother Ichabod. “Why don’t
you have your perductions, as you call ’em, mailed in Boston or New
York? You could send ’em to somebody there.”
“Thank you, I wouldn’t stoop to the subterfuge,” said Melinda, reciting
“_Breathes there a girl with soul so dead,
Who never to herself hath said,
Wisconsin is my native State?_”
“Good!” said her brother. “When did you make up them verses?”
“They are not mine,” confessed Melinda. “They are by Byron.”
“Are they, now? He was a smart feller, wasn’t he?”
“He was an inspired poet, Ichabod; but you wouldn’t understand him. He
soars into the realms of the evanescent.”
“Does he? Then I guess I couldn’t. I ain’t much on soarin’.”
At half-past seven o’clock a knock was heard at the door of Melinda’s
“Ichabod, open the door,” she said.
Her brother obeyed the command. As Barclay and Walter entered the room,
they beheld their fair hostess seated at the center table, with a volume
of poems resting on her lap, while one hand supported her forehead, the
elbow resting on the table. She had practiced this attitude during the
afternoon before a looking-glass, and considered it effective.
She lifted her eyes slowly, appearing wrapt in meditation.
“Pardon my pensive preoccupation,” she said, rising and greeting her
guests. “I was communing with Milton. Do you often commune with him, Mr.
“I haven’t had much time for that lately, Miss Jones. My friend here is
more poetical than I am.”
“Indeed, Mr. Howard, I am glad to hear that. You and me will be
“You flatter me, Miss Jones,” said Walter, looking sober, but wanting to
“Do you ever provoke the muse, Mr. Howard?” asked Melinda, who probably
“Sometimes,” said Walter. “I hear you are an authoress.”
“A little of one,” said Melinda, modestly.
“I hope you will favor us by reading something of your own.”
“Indeed, Mr. Howard,” said Melinda, with affected bashfulness, “I should
be afraid to submit my careless productions to gentlemen of such
literary taste. I did indeed throw off a few rhymes to-day, but—-”
“We shall be glad to hear them, Miss Jones. Perhaps, after you have read
them, my friend, Mr. Howard, will read something.”
“Oh, that will be delightful! In that case I cannot refuse. Ichabod,
will you bring me that portfolio from the desk?”
Her brother, whom Melinda was in the habit of ordering around, complied
with his sister’s request.
Melinda drew out a sheet of note paper and unfolded it.
“I hope, Mr. Howard, you will not be severe upon my verses. They were
written this afternoon, in a fit of inspiration. You will see that they
reveal my too susceptible soul. I am subject to fits—-”
“Why, Melinda,” broke in her brother, “you never told me you had fits?”
“To fits of lonely contemplation,” continued Melinda, looking severely
at her brother, “and it was in one of these that I penned the following
Melinda cleared her throat, and read as follows, in an impressive voice:
“_Oh, lay me to sleep in the deep, deep sea,
For my life is dark and drear;
Or give me the wings to soar aloft,–
I am tired of living here._
“_I feel that I am not understood;
My thoughts are far too deep
For the common crowd, who only care
To eat and drink and sleep._
“_My soul walks through the world alone,
Where it e’er must sadly roam.
Pining for congenial company
In some celestial home._
“_I wreathe my face in hollow smiles,
And people think me glad;
They cannot see my aching heart,
For I am ever sad._
“_Then lay me to sleep in the deep, deep sea;
For my life is dark and drear;
Or give me wings to soar aloft,–
I am tired of living here._”
“It takes Melinda to string off the rhymes,” said Ichabod, who took his
sister at her own valuation, and firmly believed her to be a genius.
“She writes ’em just as easy!”
“Do you share her talent, Mr. Jones?” asked Walter, gravely.
“Me? I couldn’t write poetry if you was to pay me ten dollars a line. I
shouldn’t want to, either, if I’d got to feel as Melinda says she does
in them verses she just read.”
“It is the penalty of a too-sensitive soul. Surely you have had such
feelings, Mr. Howard. I am afraid you were not favorably impressed by my
This she said, anxious to draw out expressions of admiration.
“The lines are very smooth, Miss Jones,” said Walter, “but I cannot say
I ever have quite such feelings. I am of a cheerful temperament, and my
muse would not soar to such lofty heights as yours.”
“I envy you, Mr. Howard,” said Melinda, with a sigh. “I wish my muse
were not so thoughtful and contemplative. Have you not some poem you
could read us? Mr. Barclay says you are a poet.”
“I am afraid Mr. Barclay has spoken without authority.”
“Come, Mr. Howard, you must read Miss Jones the verses you wrote this
“What! Were you, too, provoking the muse, Mr. Howard?” asked Melinda,
with eager interest.
“I am afraid I was,” said Walter, gravely, choosing to understand the
young lady’s words literally.
In fact he had written a few verses, at Mr. Barclay’s suggestion, “for
the fun of it,” in order to contribute his quota to the feast of reason
expected in the evening.
“But I hope you will excuse my reading it,” he added, with affected
“Indeed I will not. Mr. Barclay, help me to persuade Mr. Howard.”
Walter finally yielded, as he intended to do all the while, but on
condition that Mr. Barclay would read the poem. This being accepted,
Barclay read, with appropriate emphasis, the following verses, which
were modeled after a song found in a small collection of minstrel verses
in Walter’s possession:
“_Around the little cottage
Waved fields of golden grain
And in it lived my heart’s delight,–
My Sophronisba Jane._
“_It was an humble cottage,
But peace and comfort reign
Within the pleasant homestead
Of Sophronisba Jane._
“_Her cheeks were like red apples,
Her dress of neat de laine;
She was an artless maiden,
Was Sophronisba Jane._
“_You cannot find in far-off climes,
In Italy or Spain,
A girl that’s half so charming
As Sophronisba Jane._
“_And if I were a monarch,
Instead of humble swain,
I still would seek to win the love
Of Sophronisba Jane._”
“How sweet!” murmured Melinda. “Indeed you are a true poet, Mr. Howard.”
“Thank you,” said Walter, who had hard work not to laugh, knowing
himself what ridiculous rubbish his verses were.
“By Jove! that’s my style of poetry,” said Mr. Jones, energetically. “I
like that better than yours, Melindy.”
“Oh, it don’t compare with your sister’s, Mr. Jones,” said Walter,
modestly. “It doesn’t soar to such lofty heights.”
“Now, Mr. Howard, I think it excellent,” said Miss Jones, who was
delighted at the praise of her own production. “I cannot expect all to
be so contemplative as I am. My muse loves to dwell alone in primeval
solitude. Yours seeks the woodland glade.”
“You have expressed the difference admirably, Miss Jones,” said Barclay,
gravely. “Mr. Jones and myself unluckily cannot soar with you and Mr.
Howard. We can only look on in silent admiration.”
“Do you often indite verses, Mr. Howard?” asked Melinda. “I hope you
will show me all your productions.”
“I seldom write, Miss Jones. Whenever I do, I shall be sure to ask your
critical opinion of my verses.”
But it is unnecessary to detail the rest of the conversation. Later in
the evening some nuts, apples and raisins were passed around, to which
Melinda did full justice, notwithstanding her unsatisfied longings and
the solitude of her soul.
WHILE Walter is anticipating commencing his duties as teacher on Monday
morning, we leave him awhile to chronicle the adventures of Joshua
Drummond, his distant relative. Readers of “Strong and Steady” will call
to mind that he was the son of Jacob Drummond, of Stapleton, a country
shopkeeper, with whom Walter passed a few weeks shortly after his
father’s death. Mr. Drummond was thoroughly a mean man, and, though his
son was now eighteen years of age, allowed him only twenty-five cents a
week for spending-money. When Joshua asked for more, he told him he
might go to work in a shoeshop, or in his own store, though in the
latter case he only agreed to pay him fifty cents. But work was not what
Joshua wanted. He thought that, as a rich man’s son, he was entitled to
a liberal allowance without working at all. He was willing,
nevertheless, to take a situation in the city, being anxious to see
life, as he termed it.
Finally, seeing no other way to compass his desire, Joshua opened his
father’s strong box with a key which he had found, and abstracted from
it fifty dollars in gold, and a five-twenty government bond for five
hundred dollars, excusing himself for the theft by the specious
reasoning that it was only taking in advance what would be his some day.
Thus provided, he secretly left the house, and took the train for New
York, saying to himself, in exultation, as he took his seat at the car
window, “Now I am going to see life.”
Joshua felt immensely wealthy with the proceeds of the robbery,
amounting, at the price of bonds, to over six hundred dollars.
Accustomed to the paltry sum of twenty-five cents a week, never having
had in his possession more than a dollar at a time, and seldom that, it
is not surprising that he should have regarded six hundred dollars as a
small fortune. He knew nothing of the city and its dangers. He had an
idea that he should easily get a situation in a week or two, which time
he proposed to spend in seeing life.
When he reached New York, he left the depot and went out into the
street. He felt bewildered. The change from the quiet streets of
Stapleton to the thronged avenues of the great city was very great, and
he hardly knew whether he stood on his head or his heels. But he
realized, with a thrill of exultation, that he was in the city of which
he had so often dreamed. He felt that a new page was to be turned over
in his life, and that his future would be much more brilliant than his
Joshua knew nobody in the city except Sam Crawford. His first desire was
to find out where Sam lived. Sam he was accustomed to regard as a
personage of a good deal of importance. But how to find him–that was
the question. He knew that Sam was a clerk in a shoe store on Eighth
avenue, but where that avenue was he had not the least idea.
While he was standing outside the depot in some perplexity, wondering
how far off Sam’s store was, he was accosted by a sharp-looking
bootblack, whose hands indicated his profession.
“Shine yer boots, mister?”
Joshua was not reckless in his expenditures, and he inquired,
cautiously, “How much do you ask?”
“Twenty-five cents,” said the bootblack.
“Twenty-five cents!” exclaimed Joshua, aghast, reflecting that the sum
asked represented what hitherto had been his entire weekly allowance.
“Well,” said the bootblack, “seein’ you’re from the country, I’ll call
it twenty cents.”
“What makes you think I’m from the country?” asked Joshua, quite
unconscious of his rustic air.
“I saw you git off the cars,” said the bootblack, not caring to offend a
possible customer by commenting on his verdant appearance.
“Yes,” said Joshua, satisfied; “I came from the country this morning. I
don’t know much about the city. I’ve got a friend here. He is in a store
in Eighth avenue. His name is Sam Crawford. Do you know him?”
“Know Sam Crawford? In course I do,” said the bootblack, who had never
heard the name before. “I black his boots every mornin’.”
“Do you?” asked Joshua, brightening up.
“Yes. He always gives me twenty cents. He wouldn’t go round with no such
lookin’ boots as yours. They ain’t respectable here in the city.”
Joshua believed all this. He was not yet accustomed to the “ways that
are dark and tricks that are vain” of city street Arabs, and he decided
to have his boots blacked notwithstanding the price, which he could not
help regarding as very steep. He was anxious to conform, as speedily as
possible, to city fashions, and, if it was not respectable to walk about
in unpolished boots, he decided to have them blacked, so that his friend
Sam might not feel ashamed of him when he came into his store.
“I guess I’ll have my boots blacked,” he said. “Can’t you take less than
“That’s the regular price, fixed by the city gov’ment,” protested the
bootblack. “If I was to take less, I’d have my license took away.”
“Do you have a license?” asked Joshua, with curiosity.
“In course I do.”
“Have you got it here?”
“No, I’ve got it to home, along with my gold valooables. I had to pay
fifty dollars for it.”
“That’s high, isn’t it?” asked Joshua, who was gathering valuable
information with great rapidity.
“Yes, it is; but then, you see we have to support the gov’ment.”
Meanwhile the mendacious young bootblack was vigorously employed upon
Joshua’s boots. He had a hard job. They were made of cow-hide, for Jacob
Drummond was not in the habit of spending much for the outfit of his
son, and they had never been well polished since they were new. At
length, however, they were polished, and certainly were greatly improved
by the process, though in shape they would hardly have been taken for
the work of a fashionable city bootmaker.
“There,” said the young Arab, surveying his work complacently, “now they
“They do look better than they did,” Joshua was compelled to admit. He
drew out twenty cents from his vest pocket and handed it to the boy.
“Is it far to Sam Crawford’s store?” he asked.
“About two miles,” was the answer.
“Could I find the way easy?”
“Yes; all you’ve got to do is to go up Madison avenue till you get to
the Battery. Go round it; then cross Madison square, keepin’ the Astor
House on your left hand. Turn into the Bowery at Trinity Church; then
cross over to Twenty-seventh street. Go up Twenty-seventh street six
blocks till you get to A. T. Stewart’s store; then take a short cut to
Eighth avenue, and there you are.”
These false and absurd directions were delivered with great volubility
by the bootblack; but it is needless to say that they made a very
confused impression upon the mind of Joshua, who felt more bewildered
and helpless than before.
“I don’t know any of those places,” he said. “I am afraid I couldn’t
find the way.”
“Maybe you couldn’t. I know a man who was two days findin’ a place only
a mile off. If he’d paid a dollar to somebody that knew the way he’d
been all right.”
This put a new idea into Joshua’s mind.
“If you’ll show me the way to Sam Crawford’s, I’ll give you fifty
cents,” he said.
“That’s too little,” said the boy. “I couldn’t neglect my business so
long for that. I should lose money.”
“How much do you want?”
“A dollar. It’s worth a dollar to go so fur. I might lose half a dozen
The boy would have stood out for a dollar but for the fact that another
bootblack had come up–one of his rivals in business–and he was afraid
he might offer to go for less. Accordingly he hastened to strike a
“All right,” said he. “Hand over your money.”
“Wait till I get there,” said Joshua, cautiously.
“Payment in advance,” said the young Arab. “That’s the way they do
business in the city.”
Joshua drew out seventy-five cents, and placed them in his hand.
“Follow me, mister,” said the young conductor. “I guess I won’t go the
way I told you. I’ll take a short cut,” he added.
The bootblack led Joshua by a pretty direct course to Eighth avenue. It
was a considerable walk, and to Joshua an interesting one. As he noted
block after block of elegant buildings he felt elated to think that his
home was from henceforth to be in the great city. Some time or other,
when his father had forgiven him, he would go back to Stapleton, and
show off the same city airs which had so impressed him in the case of
Sam Crawford. He was rather alarmed when he came to cross Broadway, and
came near being run over by a passing omnibus.
“Look out, mister,” said his young guide, “or you’ll get knocked into a
cocked hat. Folks is in such a hurry here that they don’t stop to pick
up dead bodies.”
Arrived in Eighth avenue, the bootblack, who had cunningly managed to
find out Sam Crawford’s business, pointed to the first shoe store they
reached, and said, “That’s the place.”
“Does Sam Crawford work there?”
“In course he does. You jest go in, and you’ll see him at the back of
Joshua went in, never dreaming that he had been deceived. Meanwhile his
guide took to his heels with the money he had extracted from Joshua by
JOSHUA entered the shoe store pointed out by his guide without the least
suspicion that he had been imposed upon by that enterprising young
gentleman. Like most of the shoe stores on this avenue, it had a liberal
stock of boots exposed outside, at prices low enough to attract the
attention of those passing. Within it was narrow, but deep. There was a
counter on one side, with two or three sofas in the open space for the
accommodation of customers who wished to try on shoes. Behind the
counter were two shopmen, while one outside was fitting a boy with
boots. Joshua looked about him, but failed to recognize the friend of
whom he was in quest.
“Perhaps he has gone out a little while,” thought Joshua. “I will
He walked up to the counter, and asked, “Is Sam Crawford out?”
“He hasn’t been in very lately,” answered the clerk, taking in the
rustic appearance of his questioner at a glance.
Joshua did not infer from this answer the true state of the case.
“Is he coming in soon?” he asked.
“I really don’t know,” said the clerk, indifferently, winking to his
fellow-salesman, who was within hearing distance.
Something in his tone excited doubt in Joshua’s mind.
“I suppose he works here, don’t he?” he inquired.
“Not that I ever heard of.”
“Why,” said Joshua, puzzled, “the boy that showed me the way told me he
“Then the boy told a lie.”
Joshua felt disturbed at this information, It appeared that he had paid
away seventy-five cents without receiving value therefor. Besides, apart
from this, he wanted to find Sam. He felt helpless in a large city,
without a single acquaintance or friend to instruct him in what he ought
“Are there any other shoe stores in this street,” he asked.
“I should say there were–several,” answered the clerk; “but of course
we sell the best articles at the lowest price.”
“Do you?” said Joshua, with an air of one receiving information.
“Yes; can’t we sell you a pair?”
“I guess not to-day,” answered Joshua.
“I suppose you know that your boots are out of style,” said the other,
surveying Joshua’s boots contemptuously.
“I won’t buy any to-day,” said Joshua, to whom it occurred that when he
found Sam the latter would sell to him cheaper on the score of
“Take a card,” said the salesman, “and give us a call when you need a
Joshua took the card and put it in his pocket. As he left the store he
looked about for the boy who had deceived him. The latter would probably
have been invisible, but a gentleman had hailed him, and he was now
engaged in polishing his second boot. Joshua waited till he was through,
and then commenced the attack.
“Look here,” said he, “you said Sam Crawford worked in that store.”
The bootblack, who had not contemplated another meeting with the
customer he had deceived, decided to brazen it out, and deny all
knowledge of the affair.
“Who’s Sam Crawford?” he asked, vacantly. “I don’t know what you’re
“You told me Sam Crawford worked in that store.”
“Did I? I don’t know any Sam Crawford.”
“You told me you blacked his boots every morning,” persisted Joshua.
“Look here, mister, haven’t you got hold of the wrong boy?”
Joshua was rather taken aback by this question, but, looking closely at
the boy before him, he was convinced that he was right.
“No, I have not,” he said; “I paid you seventy-five cents for showing me
the way to the store where Sam Crawford worked.”
“How could I show you when I never heard of Sam Crawford?”
“You said you knew him.”
“I guess you’re crazy, mister.”
“You’ve cheated me,” said Joshua, getting provoked. “Just give me back
that seventy-five cents I paid you.”
“Do you see any green in my eye, mister?” inquired the bootblack.
“What makes you ask that?”
“I see what you are,” said the bootblack, boldly carrying the war into
the enemy’s camp; “you’re one of them swindlin’ fellers that go round
cheatin’ the poor out of their hard earnings. I’ll call a cop.”
“What’s a cop?” asked Joshua, uneasily.
“What’s a peeler?”
“A purlice officer. Where was you brought up?” demanded the boy,
contemptuously. “If I knowed where Sam Crawford lived, wouldn’t I tell
“Are you sure you ain’t the boy that showed me the way?”
“In course I am.”
“You just look like him,” said Joshua, doubtfully.
“I know who it was,” said the bootblack, who had no scruples about
lying. “It was Pat Brady. He and me look like twin brothers. He’s a bad
boy, Pat is–he’ll lie as fast as he can talk.”
Joshua was at last convinced that he had made a mistake. He was
completely taken in by the young rascal, who proceeded to follow up his
“Did Pat black your boots?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Joshua.
“I thought so,” said the bootblack, contemptuously. “He can’t shine
boots. How much did you pay?”
“Then he cheated you.”
“He said it was the regular price.”
“How that boy will lie!” said the young Arab, virtuously. “The regular
price is ten cents. Don’t you want me to give you a shine?”
“No,” said Joshua, hastily drawing back his foot, upon which the
bootblack was about to commence operations. “They don’t need any more
“Don’t you ever get Pat Brady to shine your boots ag’in.”
“No, I won’t,” said Joshua, indignant at the swindle which the virtuous
young bootblack had exposed. “If I ever see him again I’ll give him a
“That’s right, mister; I’ll help you do it any time,” said his new
“I wish I knew where to find Sam Crawford,” said Joshua, in perplexity.
“Is this Eighth avenue?”
“Sam is in a shoe store somewhere in this street.”
“Why don’t you go into every store, and ax ’em if he works there. I’ll
go with you for fifty cents.”
But Joshua thought, very justly, that this was something in which he
required no help, and did not therefore feel disposed to throw away any
more money. He began to think that New York was a very extensive place,
where it was quite necessary to be on the look-out for swindlers. If he
could only find Sam Crawford, for whose knowledge of life he had high
respect, he would, undoubtedly, be all right; but there were
difficulties in the way. Still, he was not without hope. If he inquired
in every shoe store on the avenue, he must come across him after a
We are often very near the truth without suspecting it. The store of
which Joshua was in search was in reality on the next block below the
one which he had entered; but, ignorant of this, he directed his steps
uptown, and very soon found another store.
“Does Sam Crawford work here?” he asked, entering.
“No, he don’t; but I’ll sell you a pair of shoes or boots as cheap as he
“I don’t want to buy anything. Sam Crawford is a friend of mine; I want
to find him.”
“I am sorry I can’t help you. I don’t know any such man. Hadn’t you
better let me show you a pair of boots?”
“No; I don’t need any,” said Joshua, and, disappointed a second time,
beat a retreat.
“It’s strange Sam Crawford isn’t any better known,” thought Joshua. “I
should think those that keep stores in the same street would know him.”
My readers may conclude that Joshua was very verdant, but the fact was
that he had lived all his lifetime in a country village, where everybody
knew everybody else, and this will help to account for his limited
knowledge of life.
“I wish I had Sam’s letter,” he said to himself; “it would save me a
good deal of trouble.”
In the next store the young man to whom he addressed his stereotyped
question prided himself on being a wag, and, perceiving that Joshua was
from the country, resolved to have a little fun with him.
“Sam Crawford!” he repeated. “He’s a young man, isn’t he?”
“Acquainted with the shoe business?”
“Yes. Do you know him?” asked Joshua, eagerly.
“And a hump-back?”
“With a hump between his shoulders?”
“Then it can’t be the Crawford I know.”
Joshua was deeply disappointed. The young man had drawn him on till he
believed that Sam was practically found. Now, discovery seemed as remote
as ever. Again he emerged into the street. There was a shoe store on the
next block. His hope revived. He entered that also, but the faces were
all unfamiliar. He asked as before, but succeeded in eliciting no
information. He kept on his way for a mile, entering store after store,
marveling inwardly why there should be need of so many shoe stores, and,
as he failed to discover Sam, almost beginning to doubt whether he
hadn’t made a mistake about the street. He began to feel lonely, not for
the lack of human faces, for he had met hundreds of persons, but the
peculiar loneliness of a stranger in a great city, who, among the
multitudes that he meets, recognizes not one familiar face.